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Harmless Drudge: How to (Not) Speak With a British Accent
Posted: 20 July 2010 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Some people shouldn’t set themselves up as experts—at least not on the internet.

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Posted: 20 July 2010 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m cringing on behalf of the poor woman.  She is just so wrong on just about every count and she’s lost so much credibility.  I wonder how her career has fared?

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Posted: 20 July 2010 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I doubt her clients will ever know about it.

Thanks for the links, Dave; I’ve taken the liberty of swiping them for LH.

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Posted: 20 July 2010 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’m not so sure about that. The nature of You Tube is such that any client who looks at the video will also see all the comments, parody links, etc. And if enough sites discuss it, the articles critical of her will rise to the top of the hit list when you Google her name.

It won’t be the death of her business or anything, but it can’t help.

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Posted: 20 July 2010 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well, sure, if it goes really viral, but that seems unlikely.  Right now it’s on the fourth page of results if you google her name; if it gets to the first page, then she can start worrying.

I mean, we’re not talking about a celebrity wardrobe malfunction here.

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Posted: 20 July 2010 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I think the major problem is her caught/cot failure.

Another one that American actors playing British characters sometimes get wrong is the pronunciation of can’t.

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Posted: 21 July 2010 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Interestingly, she has a recognisable British accent, i.e. she is not speaking RSP.  I think she has learnt her accent off an inhabitant of North London – a bit like Janet Street-Porter, but not as strong.

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Posted: 21 July 2010 11:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Certainly an entertaining performance, if not much else. Since there are hundreds of “British dialects”, I suppose she means a “dialect” used by a British toff, not the British dialect of a Merseyside bricklayer. British toffs* actually speak with a variety of dialects, too—many of them sound as though they were parodying themselves, like whatsisname, who did the repellent male lead in that TV series “Remington Steele” (I heard they had him performing James Bond, too - couldn’t bring myself to look. Not after Sean Connery).

If one wanted to sound like an upper-class Briton, one might try imitating Prince Charles (can’t go much more upper-crust than that, can we?) - though I don’t know how “typical” Charles’s “dialect” is. But he did study at Cambridge University, and those Oxbridge accents are very adhesive, whatever accent the student may have started out with.

* I see I have used an old-fashioned word, which I suspect isn’t seen or heard much nowadays. Apparently the word is supposed to derive from a tassel, or tuft, indicative of social rank - I always supposed “toff” to be an abbreviation of “toffee-nosed” (Heaven knows where that expression comes from ---anyone?). One more black mark to amateur etymology ;-)

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Posted: 22 July 2010 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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what’s RSP?

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Posted: 22 July 2010 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I was wondering that myself. Perhaps RP is meant? (Received Pronunciation).

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Posted: 22 July 2010 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The OED entry for toff has clearly not been updated for a while. The latest citation is from 1906. And the etymology says, “perh. a vulgar perversion of TUFT.” You don’t get too many “vulgar perversions” in recently edited dictionaries.

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Posted: 22 July 2010 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Interestingly, she has a recognisable British accent, i.e. she is not speaking RSP.  I think she has learnt her accent off an inhabitant of North London – a bit like Janet Street-Porter, but not as strong.

There are certainly elements of North London in there, but much of it either wobbles alarmingly about the island of Britain, or misses the UK and ends up on some other planet entirely.

I always supposed “toff” to be an abbreviation of “toffee-nosed” (Heaven knows where that expression comes from ---anyone?)

I can’t see “toff” coming from “toffee-nosed”, since to be a “toff” was to be a gentleman in the eyes of the working class (Thanks, guv, you’re a toff") and thus laudable, whereas to be called toffee-nosed was a criticism. Looking at the OED definitions of “tuft”, it is clear “tuft” once mean “undergraduate born into the nobility”

7. An ornamental tassel on a cap; spec. the gold tassel formerly worn by titled undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge (see quot. 1894).
Originally, at Oxford, a distinction of the sons of those peers who had a vote in the House of Lords, after 1861 of all peers and their eldest sons; after 1870 made optional … 1861 HUGHES Tom Brown at Oxf. viii, Men..all in tufts or gentlemen~commoners’ caps. 1894 Westm. Gaz. 5 Mar. 3/1 Lord Rosebery..was one of the last undergraduates of Christ Church who wore the gold tassel, known by the name of ‘tuft’, which was the distinguishing mark of noblemen and the sons of noblemen.

b. transf. in University slang, One who wears a tuft; a titled undergraduate. … 1840 THACKERAY Shabby-genteel Story ii, The lad went to Oxford,..frequented the best society, followed with a kind of proud obsequiousness all the tufts of the university. 1847 JOWETT Let. 10 Mar., in Life & Lett. (1897) I. 158 Dufferin of Christ Church..seems a most excellent tuft. 1884 Weekly Register 18 Oct. 503/2 One don is much like another, to a lively young tuft who keeps beagles.

but whether that widened out to mean “gentleman”, and transmuted into “toff” will need some more research …

As for “toffee-nosed”, “snobbish, supercilious” (OED) I’ve always assumed this was a metaphorical blend, because of toffee’s stickyness, of “stuck up” ("Assuming an unjustified air of superiority, or pluming oneself unduly on real superiority; offensively pretentious”, OED) and “nose-in-the-air” ("haughty, disdainful”, OED), though I have no evidence for this whatsoever.

[ Edited: 22 July 2010 12:18 PM by Zythophile ]
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Posted: 22 July 2010 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I remember reading Anthony Burgess’s assertion in Language Made Plain that schoolkids and adult learners of foreign languages should have a working knowledge of phonetics in order to best approximate foreign pronunciation, rather than listening to tapes. Schoolkids could be forced to learn how the lips, tongue, etc work but I doubt if adults would be prepared to do this. It sounds a bit crackpot and impractical to me.
Would you say listening to recordings of native speakers of another language is the best way to learn alien sounds? Many Scandinavians, Dutch and Germans have barely detectable accents when speaking English doubtless to the credit of their teachers and early immersion in English. When I learnt French at school only basic pronunciation was taught which I found was pretty much unintelligible in France when I went there, the concentration being on getting the grammar right to pass an exam. (I read more recently that the sitcom ‘Allo Allo’ was used to show in British schools how ridiculous we sound speaking French unless we make a proper stab at pronunciation.)

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Posted: 22 July 2010 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I believe Anthony Burgess is/was a very learned man highly esteemed by other learned persons. So what he says should probably be considered seriously. Long ago, I started to read “A Clockwork Orange”, only to discover that in order to read it, i must learn another language: so I packed it in, feeling that such a requirement was tantamount to bullying on the author’s part. I very much enjoyed the movie; a hair-raising masterpiece, I thought. Thanks, VB, I wll look out for something by Burgess written in English.

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Posted: 22 July 2010 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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aldiboronti - 22 July 2010 03:33 AM

I was wondering that myself. Perhaps RP is meant? (Received Pronunciation).

Indeed, the ‘S’ was an aberration.

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Posted: 22 July 2010 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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This is the first chance I’ve had to see the video.  It did make me cringe a bit, and the response video that Dave linked to was very funny.

The only thing I can say in her defense is that whether she is a complete boob or not depends on the intended audience for the video.  If she’s trying to teach American drama students how to effect a British accent in plays intended for American audiences, it is okay.  I’ve watched a few British sitcoms with British actors playing Americans, whose accents were terrible, but probably convincing enough to the British audience for which they were intended.  I don’t see anything wrong either way.

On the other hand, if you’re making a big-budget, international picture, someone is going to make a fool of themselves if they follow her advice.

BTW, in my opinion, Hugh Laurie has the best American accent by a British actor.  He’s so convincing as House that it’s a little jarring to hear him speak in his natural British accent on a talk show.

Regardless of the medium, it is absolutely imperative to employ a British accent when depicting a Nazi or Roman. ;-)

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